20 – 26 February

A snapshot of media coverage on the coronavirus outbreak:

David Heymann speaks to…

(26/02) Newsweek about why caution needs to be used when describing the outbreak as a pandemic. David said: “Terms such as pandemic are distracting. What is necessary is to understand the current situation in each country. It is for WHO to determine when the outbreaks should be called a pandemic and they will do this based on information from many different sources.”

(25/02) National Geographic about the difficulty in predicting whether warming Spring temperatures will slow the spread of the outbreak. David said: “The risk of making predictions without an evidence base is that they could, if they prove to be wrong, be taken as verity and give a false security. The emphasis today should continue to be on containment to elimination where possible.” David’s comment also features in The Express.

(25/02) Nature about the importance of outbreak preparedness. David said: “I think that people put way too much emphasis on a pandemic. I think what’s important is a basic understanding of outbreaks and how to deal with them.”

(25/02) The Indian Express about a possible decrease in COVID-19 transmission rates in China, citing the containment strategies used during the 2003 SARS outbreak. David said: “China was able to stop outbreaks outside the epicenter in Guangdong province by meticulous outbreak containment and control.”

(24/02) BBC News about Italy’s emergency measures, amid the country reporting it’s first deaths. David said: “They’re looking hard to find patient zero but they’re also trying to control the outbreak. Hopefully these measures will be effective in interrupting transition.”

(24/02) Al Jazeera about Iran’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. David said: “I was in Iran at the time of the earthquake and I saw a rapid and effective response to the health needs of the people who were in that  earthquake situation so I know that Iran has the capability of mobilising many different groups when they need to.

(24/02) Daily Mail about how better understanding of the transmissibility of the novel coronavirus is needed to guide other countries on appropriate response measures. David said: “Transmissibility in the community is not yet fully understood – what is necessary is to understand the current situation in each country. It is for WHO to determine when the outbreaks should be called a pandemic and they will do this based on information from many different sources.”

(22/02) South China Morning Post about the WHO’s work in assessing next containment steps in China. David said: “They’ll be looking at the number of asymptomatic and other types of infection to better understand the mortality ratio in China. Clearly China has been very transparent and open in sharing its data. They’re sharing it very well and they opened up all of their files with the WHO present.”

(21/02) The Guardian about who is most at risk of contracting coronavirus. David said: “This is a new disease in humans, so no-one has immunity– health workers, like everyone else, don’t have immunity. At the moment it appears that people who are at greater risk are the elderly and probably the very young. But it is part of the natural history of such infections that we will get deaths across the age ranges. The same pathophysiology can happen in the young as in the old.”

Roz Eggo speaks to…

(25/02) Channel 4 News (from 5:25) about the effectiveness of China’s containment efforts. Roz said: “It’s difficult to ascribe cause to effect, but there have been very strong interventions in China for over a month now and it does appear that the number of cases has been falling, and so that is good evidence that it is possible to decrease transmission of the virus. What that has really done is provide the rest of us more time to prepare.”

Adam Kucharski speaks to…

(26/02) Sky News about why reliance on symptom-based screening may be ineffective at curbing the spread of COVID-19. Adam said: “If you have a lot of people who travel in the incubation period they probably won’t have developed symptoms so won’t be picked up by screening. There is varying screening ability in countries, usually depending on how wealthy or not they are.”

(21/02) South China Morning Post about the apparent slow-down in coronavirus cases in China, consistent with his earlier predictions. Adam said: “However, we are cautious about claiming that recent patterns reflect a peak in transmission across China, as there have been changes in case definition, reporting and testing capacity that may also be influencing observed patterns. Transmission may also continue to change as control measures and social behaviour further adapt in response to the outbreak.”

(20/02) Forbes about the lessons that can be learnt from the coronavirus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship. Adam said: “If passengers have had clearly defined exposures to other cases, it could be helpful for refining estimates of the incubation period and transmission risk following different types of interaction. However, a cruise ship is unlikely to be representative of spread in other settings, so it’s not clear how generalisable some of the information about transmission will be.”

Peter Piot speaks to…

(25/02) Peter Piot speaks to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme (from 2:37:00) about the importance of global preparedness. Peter said: “We can’t be over prepared. Whether this is a pandemic or not is immaterial because it doesn’t make any difference to what we have to do. Every country has to prepare and some are better prepared than others. The UK have one of the best public health systems in in the world and all measures up to now have been able to contain the spread, but in today’s world an epidemic  thousands of miles away from here  is no longer just a local affair.”

(25/02) The Evening Standard about the likelihood of a vaccine being developed before the outbreak ends. Peter said: “I don’t expect that there will be a vaccine available for millions of people who would need it before the end of the year. I am very skeptical that we will have a vaccine before this epidemic is brought under control. But it may be very useful to have one if this becomes seasonal and every year we have a wave of this.”

(24/02) The New York Times about the situation in Iran, amid the country reporting the highest number of deaths from the virus outside of China. Peter said: “It is a recipe for a massive viral outbreak.”

Jimmy Whitworth speaks to…

(26/02) Bloomberg Radio about the ongoing spread of the outbreak. Jimmy said: “The worry is that it has now spilled over into a number of countries and regions in the world. In the Middle East we have this focus on Iran which is worrying because that’s getting into countries that have very weak health systems – places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve got an expansion of cases in Italy which is crossing borders and threatens Western Europe. This is an infectious disease, it does not recognise international borders and will spread wherever people move.”

(25/02) The Independent about the effectiveness of face masks in preventing the spread of coronavirus. Jimmy said: “There’s little evidence they are very effective. They’re more beneficial if you have a virus and don’t want to pass it on than to prevent catching anything.”

(25/02) BBC News about whether the outbreak could be considered a pandemic. Jimmy said: “I think many people would consider the current situation a pandemic, we have ongoing transmission in multiple regions of the world. The virus is spreading around the world and the link with China is becoming less strong.”

Brendan Wren speaks to…

(25/02) Brendan Wren speaks to BBC News about vaccine development for COVID-19. Brendan said: “There’s 30 or 40 groups worldwide currently developing vaccines against the coronavirus. An advantage here is that we only need a DNA sequence which the Chinese authorities made available immediately and that means from the DNA sequence we can rapidly make the antigens that will respond to the human immune system.”

(24/02) LBC about public health measures. Brendan said: “I’d advise good hygiene practice. Washing your hands even if it’s not endemic in this country.”

Other LSHTM experts…

(24/02) Sam Clifford talks to National Geographic about the effectiveness of air traveler screening for COVID-19. Sam said: “We’d probably only catch about 45 percent of infected travelers using exit screening. Out of the remaining 55 percent of people who aren’t caught, we can catch a few more on entry. You’ve got 42 percent of the people with coronavirus still making it into the country.”

(22/02) Peter Smith discusses vaccine development for the novel coronavirus in South China Morning Post. Peter said: “I would expect human studies on some candidates to start in the coming months, but the later stage studies which are required to test the safety and efficacy of a vaccine before licensure or widespread use seem unlikely to be completed this year.”

(20/02) Preliminary research by LSHTM’s Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases on the projected transmission rates of COVID-19 features in The Korea Times.

Further LSHTM coverage…

Stephan Evans comments on a study that found taking antibiotics in early pregnancy has some links to birth defects in The Independent. Stephan said: “It is already well-known that the prescribing of drugs, including antibiotics, should be done with caution in pregnancy. Even if the evidence for harm of macrolides in general is not as strong as these authors suggest, there is no real evidence of absence of harm. Caution is certainly reasonable.”

Mary Cameron discusses vector-borne diseases such as leishmaniasis on BBC World Service’s CrowdScience programme (from 03:00).

May van Schalkwyk about the safety of cigarette filters on BBC Radio 4’s Inside Health Programme.

Heidi Larson speaks to Yahoo! News about vaccination rates falling globally. Heidi said: “We thought the health intervention of vaccinating would be as normal as tooth brushing, but we’ve had some challenges. Concerns are safety, safety, safety.”

Analysis by LSHTM on the impact of a large-scale distribution of water filters on diarrhea and acute respiratory infection in Rwanda features in The Conversation.

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